Scenes From An Occupation
The Occupy London Stock Exchange movement set up camp at St Paul’s on the 15th of October 2011 after failing in its attempt to position the protest right outside the Stock Exchange building itself. Partly by chance I was there two days later. Astonishingly protesters had organised themselves into a society with almost all the governmental structures a fledgling civilisation required, followed quickly by cultural and social institutions which are taken for granted in the modern world. Initially a voting assembly established a structure for the protest through a period of debate; over 500 people gathered outside St Paul’s on the 26th of October 2011 and ratified a 10-point statement, a frame to work with. This example of direct democracy would evolve as the society matured and more facets of a modern civilisation became established. Medical and social services, food distribution, entertainment centre followed by education through the university of OLSX and a library. The early days of November saw much public debate supported by workshops discussing the movements aims and objectives. However it was not one way traffic, vocal opposition to the camp and its ideology brought interesting and powerful responses from protesters. Although OLSX spread out to other venues none remained for long except Finsbury Square, which after being largely ignored by comparison to its parent camp, was removed on June 14th 2012 ahead one suspects of the impending Olympics. Like all civilisations through history Occupy London Stock Exchange at St Paul’s grew, diminished, at least in physical presence, and was eventually washed away by old guard authority, bailiffs supported by the City of London Police, inevitably part of the one percent that OLSX had challenged. Of all the worldwide Occupy protests St Paul’s lasted the longest, until midnight February 28th 2012, by which time the buzz and presence of the camp had dissolved into an air of resignation to its physical fate. Occupy’s original remit was a demonstration against economic inequality, however visually at least this argument seemed to become more and more diluted as additional, tenuously related in some cases, protests became attached, attracted no doubt by the enormous media presence in the early days of the camp. Gone but not forgotten, OLSX may have been small in physical dimension however its occupation, with all the other sites, of the world’s media was and continues to be successful in keeping its message in the public eye. And that seemed to be the point. There is a historical president set back in 1969 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono who from their bed occupied the world’s media with a message of peace and goodwill. Gone but not forgotten.
As a documentary photographer I was immediately hooked and returned as often as possible to record development and changes. This is not a definitive critical review of the occupation; it is my view as a dispassionate observer working to preserve in images the first important protest of the 21st century.